Bruce Irvin is back from a four-game suspension a fortunate dude — during his absence, the Seahawks were 4-0. Now he has to prove he’s needed against Andrew Luck Sunday.
Bruce Irvin has a splendid reason for a smile the size of Rhode Island. In May he embarrassed himself and undercut his team’s chances in 2013 when he was busted for a banned substance, presumed to be the stimulant Adderall, that caused him to be suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season. The Seahawks are 4-0.
So his guilt with the NFL didn’t compound into a loss for the Seahawks in his absence. Lucky dude.
“My smile explains everything,” he said to a gaggle of reporters Wednesday talking with Irvin for the first time since his banishment. “It feels great. It was tough watching these guys for four weeks, but I paid my debt to society and now I’m trying to get back to work.”
Don’t know about a debt to society, where Adderall is prescribed and popular, misused often as an up-all-night party drug. But he owes a solid to his teammates, who covered nicely for him. At least in the second half Sunday.
In the first half at Houston, quarterback Matt Schaub stunned the Seahawks’ heralded defense by helping create 327 yards of total offense and a 20-3 lead. If there were a moment when Irvin richly deserved to feel guilty, it was then, because the difference to that point was that Schaub was as unbothered as a sleeping newborn because of failures in Irvin’s specialty — the pass rush.
Then things changed.
“The difference between the first half and second half is the pass rush,” said coach Pete Carroll. “The first half, (Schaub) is sitting back there looking and taking his time. He took full advantage of it. Matt Schaub is a really accurate thrower and if you give him time. He’s going to cut you up pretty good.
“Once we got going on the pass rush, things started to fit together, balls started getting tipped, he had to hurry. The whole complexion of our play was affected.”
Sack-free in the first half, Schaub went down four times in the second half. One time he didn’t go down led to a worse mistake, one that may be looked back upon in late December as a key moment in the Seahawks season — Schaub’s flight from a near-certain sack by safety Kam Chancellor into throwing a pick-six by Richard Sherman that turned the game.
The second-half shutout, including overtime, was so dominant that it would be fair to wonder whether Irvin had a place in the scheme. Even Irvin, watching on TV, wondered.
“I was talking to (linebacker) Bobby Wagner, and like, ‘Man, y’all don’t even need me,’” Irvin said, still smiling. “Every time I looked up, Schaub was on the ground. I think the coaching staff does a good job of putting guys in the right situation to succeed — Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Mike Bennett. That’s scary, man.”
The place they have put Irvin for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis is new for him. At SAM linebacker, Irvin, who spent his college career at West Virginia University and his rookie year as a Seahawk at defensive end with his hand in the dirt, will be upright, with chances to rush as well as cover.
“It’s a little different,” he said. “They try to keep it as simple as they can for me. It’s not too much different. I’m always on the ball, always blitzing, dropping or setting the edge. That’s just what it is.
“The transition has been pretty good and I’m looking forward to taking on the challenge more.”
Irvin had plenty of challenges last season. Labeled by skeptics as a reach with the 15th pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, Irvin validated some of the doubters by failing to develop something beyond his blazing speed to get through NFL blocking schemes. He did lead all NFL rookies with eight sacks and 19 QB hurries, but also went through long disappearances. The worst came in the last game. He started for the injured Clemons in the Seahawks’ playoff loss to the Falcons and was virtually a non-factor.
Then he tested positive, one of six Seahawks to be caught over two seasons, which provided national media with a new nickname for the locals: SeAdderall Seahawks. The four-game suspension looked to be a big deal, because Clemons’ return from knee surgery was unknowable.
Irvin, 25, was able to practice in fall camp, and play in the preseason, but once the season started, he flew back to West Virginia, where he’s still something of a folk hero, and worked out with his old Mountaineers college team.
“I just love that state,” said Irvin, an Atlanta native. “Obviously, I went to school there and contributed to the weight room a lot of money. So I felt like I should go back there and use the weight room. It was rough being around those college kids. I tried to coach them up and give them as much advice as I can.
“Try to make them see that I’m not there because I’m supposed to be there, I’m there because I’m suspended. It’s just little things like that. It was good. I got my work done and stayed off the ESPN ticker so I think I accomplished what I needed to do.”
Irvin has spent his life on the edge, personally and professionally, so it’s not as if he’s totally uncomfortable as the class screw-up. But he knows he’s blown some cred, yet he’s still part of perhaps the best defense in the NFL and a serious candidate for the Super Bowl.
“I’m itching right now,” he said, “a good way, itching the past two-three weeks. I’m just honored that coach Carroll would welcome me back. I’m just going to keep my nose clean from here on out and just play football.”
He talks the talk. The rest of it starts with a run to QB Andrew Luck Sunday, then the NFL world watches to see if he walks the walk.